The Smithfield Tournament of 1467

The tournament at Smithfield took place in June 1467 between Antoine ‘the Great Bastard’ of Burgundy, illegitimate son of Philip the Good, and Anthony Woodville, Lord Scales, brother-in-law to king Edward IV.[1] Four records survive, two of which are from the English perspective, and two Burgundian. They are written by Thomas Whiting, Chester Herald (A), an anonymous Burgundian (B), the chronicler Olivier de La Marche (C), and Robert Fabyan a London merchant (D).[2] Together they detail how the tournament was a kind of hybrid of the evolving Low Countries and English tournament traditions, as well as providing a blueprint of a large-scale tournament in an urban centre in England. Descriptions of the physical arena and the locations of other festivities associated with the event illustrate how the tournament mapped out within the city landscape.

                English tournaments generally took place at royal residences or beyond the boundaries of urban centres and were usually hosted or organised by royalty for the aristocracy.[3] This contrasted tournaments across Burgundy and the Low Countries which, prior to the mid-fifteenth century, frequently took place in market squares in towns such as Bruges, Lille and Brussels and heavily involved the urban population and merchant classes.[4] From 1450 the Low Countries, much of which was now part of Burgundy, began to adopt the more exclusive practices of English tournaments.

The 1467 event embraces aspects of both traditions. It took place in a London market at Smithfield which was made up of inns, brew houses and large tenements with pens for livestock on market days.[5] However, it was also considered a boundary area, more typical of English tournament venues, as the market lay outside the city walls.[6] The event also involved the lower classes and broader population of London, a move away from the usual exclusivity amongst the aristocracy and a lean towards the earlier Low Countries’ practices of bringing together the nobility and working classes. For example, at Smithfield the sheriffs were responsible for erecting the barriers to mark out the arena and the lists and the Mayor and other nobles and commoners were given special viewing stands around and opposite the king. There is also mention of a banquet arranged by king Edward at the residence of the Grocers, the merchant Company of Grossers, located on Princes Street.[7]

Fig.1: Detail of a miniature of a joust between Nicholas Clifford and a Frenchman, showing the tournament arena marked out with wooden barriers and with fabric-covered spectator stands. © British Library Board, Royal 14 E IV, f. 81
Jean de Wavrin, Recueil des croniques et anciennes istoires de la Grant Bretaigne
France, N. E. (Lille?) and Netherlands, S. (Bruges), c.1470-1480.

Despite involving the city, the Smithfield tournament must be described as a hybrid event as it remained, largely, an aristocratic enterprise.[8] No merchants, alderman or sheriffs are mentioned by name at any of the martial combats or other festivities. Even during the episode at the Grocers’ residence, there is only mention of the king, queen, lady Margaret and other members of the aristocracy (B).[9] Festivities also took place at more exclusive venues, such as a banquet held at the Duchess of Exeter’s residence (B), a mansion situated on the north bank of the Thames near London Bridge.[10] Many of the feasts and banquets also took place at Westminster Palace, in keeping with the English tradition of hosting tournament events at royal residences. Other locations are recorded as landmarks for meetings, feasts and masses. These situate the event across the wider city, and highlight places associated with the nobility. The Great Bastard is described as lodging at Chelsea (B), attending mass at both St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey (B) as well as using the Tower of London (A) and Westminster Bridge (B) as landmarks for meetings and ceremonial processions.

The four texts also provide a blueprint for the set up within Smithfield marketplace.  Lord Scales and the Great Bastard each had an entrance to the arena halfway down the length of the barrier, facing one another (B).[11] Both participants had a pavilion (A, B and C).[12] On the east side (B) of the arena was the king’s stand (A, B and C). There were stands around the king for lords and nobles, and other nobles and commoners nearby (A, B and C) and on the opposite side of the arena, facing the king, was a stand for the Mayor of London (B and C). Beyond the arena the surrounding buildings had their windows open for spectators (B). At the south end of the arena were spectators associated with the Great Bastard (B) and Lord Scales approached from the West, where the Church of St Bartholomew was situated (A). This gives the reader a clear image of how the marketplace was set up for the combat elements of the tournament.

In conclusion, the four accounts provide a record of how a large-scale tournament event took place within the urban centre of London, both the set-up of the arena and notable landmarks which were used for other festivities. Like the earlier tournaments taking place in Burgundy and the Low Countries, London’s population was involved in the organisation, execution, spectating and festivities of the event whilst the aristocracy still retained some spatial distance within their urban mansions and palaces.

[1] For an overview of the event see Sydney Anglo, ‘Anglo-Burgundian Feats of Arms: Smithfield, June 1467’, Guildhall Miscellany, vol. 2, no. 7 (September 1965), 271-283.

[2] Robert Fabyan, Great Chronicle of London, ed. by A. H. Thomas and I. D. Thornley (London, 1938), pp.203-4); Olivier de la Marche, Mémoires, ed. by H. Beaune and J. D’Arbaumont (Paris, 1883-88), III, pp.48-56; Thomas Whiting, Excerpta Historica, ed. by Samuel Bentley (London, 1833), pp.176-212; ‘Jousts of my lord Antoine Bastard of Burgundy done in England [1467], (fols 44r -72v)’, in The Medieval Tournament: Chivalry, Heraldry and Reality An Edition and Analysis of Three Fifteenth-Century Tournament Manuscripts, ed. by Ralph Moffatt, 2010, pp. 92-94, 304-331.

[3] Mario Damen, ‘Tournament Culture in the Low Countries and England’, in Contact and Exchange in Later Medieval Europe: Essays in Honour of Malcolm Vale, eds. Hannah Skoda, Patrick Lantschner and R.L.J. Shaw (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2012), pp. 247-266, p.253.

[4] Damen, pp.250, 253.

[5] Stowe, John, A Survey of London. Reprinted from the text of 1603, ed., C. L. Kingsford (Oxford, 1908), pp.28-33.

[6] Damen, p.253.

[7] The Company of Grossers of London dealt in spices and other goods,

[8] There is also an argument that the purpose of the tournament was to further an Anglo-Burgundian alliance and marriage negotiations between Charles the Bold and Edward IV’s sister Margaret. However, this is beyond the scope of this blog post.

[9] The anonymous Burgundian author includes a list of the ladies present but these are all titled women.

[10] The Duchess of Exeter was Edward’s sister Anne, married to the exiled Henry Holland.

[11] The market place is described as ’a park made with a double list one hundred and eight paces long and seventy-two wide’ (B), Moffat, p.317. Dimensions of the lists and barriers are also given in text A, Excerpta Historica, pp. 199, 203.

[12] Although both pavilions are mentioned, only Lord Scales‘s is given a location, described in the southeast corner (A), Excerpta Historica, p.205.

A festa diabolica for Saint John: The Saint’s Day Tournament in Florence, 1513

On 24 June Florence celebrates the feast day of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of the city. This religious observation is accompanied by city-wide events and celebrations and has been practiced in Florence for centuries. The modern festivities retain many practices with historic origins, such as parades and the observation of Mass in the Duomo, but the intra-city Calcio Storico – a cross between football, rugby, and wrestling – did not exist until the late sixteenth century. Prior to this, tournaments were held as part of the celebrations – in one of the key dates in the Florentine calendar, which often lasted for several days. Tournaments in republican Florence were often associated with a civic event or religious observance and were organised and sponsored by the Signoria, the highest level of contemporary government. The majority of these tournaments took the form of jousts and included a diverse range of competitors such as Florentine citizens, the younger sons of elite families, and condottieri in Florentine employ. In contrast to some other parts of contemporary Europe, Florentine tournaments were open to non-nobles – with some exceptions. In rare cases, such as in 1513, group combat was held instead of jousting. Luca Landucci, a Florentine apothecary who kept a detailed diary between 1500 and 1514, recounts the celebrations for the feast day and briefly narrates the tournament – and how it went wrong.[1]

            Landucci is often sparing with details in his diary, with the exception of accounts of his own property and affairs, for example the effect of the weather on the fruit trees at his villa at Dicomano. However, it is easy to recreate the tournament in 1513 from Landucci’s limited information on the participants, their equipment, and especially from his comments on the aftermath. We are informed, for example, that the tournament was held in the Piazza della Signoria, the political centre of the Republic of Florence. This is unusual as tournaments were more commonly held in the Piazza Santa Croce, as is the modern grand final of the tournament’s successor, the Calcio Storico. Temporary stands were also built to accommodate the spectators who came from miles around for the feast day. To give an idea of the size of the crowd, the spectators at the feast day in the following year, 1514, were so numerous that they even used the rooftops surrounding the piazza. Landucci recounts such vast crowds of people ‘never having been known, for numbers of strangers had come from many different parts’ – including four Roman cardinals in disguise.[2]

            Within the list, the area where the combat took place, a wooden castle was constructed as the centre and focus of the fighting, but no description or iconographic representation has survived. This temporary edifice was defended by one hundred men, who aimed to resist the three hundred attackers.[3] A secondary near-contemporary Florentine commentator, Giovanni Cambi, recounts that the castle was eighty braccia, or arm-lengths, around but, in contrast to Landucci, states that there were four hundred attackers ‘of our territory’ – possibly soldiers in Florentine employ.[4] Both sides used ‘lances and divers weapons’, which may have been whatever they had to hand, and crucially fought in the tournament without armour. There is nothing particularly unusual with the story so far – it was an urban tournament fought without armour. Both writers describe what happened after the combat, which led Cambi to decry the whole tournament as a ‘festa diabolica’.[5] The actions of the defenders, or possibly a small group of them, who led ‘bad lives’ caused serious injuries and some deaths amongst the attackers – it should be remembered that intentionally killing an opponent was never a part of tournaments. These injuries were inflicted by a somewhat unusual tournament weapon – unbaked bricks! The defenders may have taken these bricks from a construction site in Florence, possibly on their way to the tournament, and were presumably thrown from the walls of the wooden castle onto the unarmoured attackers. It is easy to imagine the effect of an unbaked brick, travelling with some force, on an unarmoured body, and it is no surprise that some of the attackers were badly wounded and others died later in hospital.

            It is not clear from the sources if the defenders intended to cause such injuries to their opponents. There is no record of names, district origins, or factional groupings in the records. Cambi clearly views these men as evil, due to the outcome of this festa diabolica, but Landucci simply refers to the brutal nature of the fighting – which is not difficult to imagine. However, this was not the end to the fatalities. In their eagerness to watch the spectacle, a group of soldiers built a platform over a nearby doorway and invited two courtesans to watch the combat. This platform collapsed onto two brothers and all four were killed. It is little surprise that the celebrations for the feast of St. John in the following year, 1514, was a smaller scale, and arguably safer, joust of ‘about sixteen jousters, all soldiers’.[6]

[1] A Florentine Diary from 1450 to 1516 by Luca Landucci continued by an anonymous writer till 1542 with notes by Iodoco del Badia, trans. by Alice de Rosen Jervis (London: J. M. Dent & Sons LTD., 1927), p. 270.

[2] A Florentine Diary from 1450 to 1516, p. 275.

[3] Ideas of those ‘within’ defending against those ‘without’ had existed from the earliest days of the tournament.

[4] Istorie di Giovanni Cambi Cittadino Fiorentino, Volume 3, ed. by Fr. Ildefonso di San Luigi (Florence: Cambiagi Stampator Granducale, 1786), pp. 23-24.

[5] Istorie di Giovanni Cambi, pp. 23-24.

[6] A Florentine Diary from 1450 to 1516, p. 276.

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